Tag Archives: 1960s

Right to Control

Many of the cases that arrive before the U.S. Supreme Court begin with individuals either trying right a wrong or make their own lives better.  They rarely expect to launch a national movement.  That was pretty much the case when Norma McCorvey found herself pregnant with her third child in 1969.  An unemployed carnival worker living outside Dallas at the time, McCorvey apparently had led a rough life and had given up her first two children for adoption.  She didn’t need – and couldn’t afford – to bring another child into the world.  However, the state of Texas didn’t allow for abortions except to save the life of the mother.  Even rape and incest victims couldn’t end their unwanted pregnancies.  Like so many women in her situation, McCorvey was too poor to travel to another state where abortions were safe and legal.  She even tried to obtain an illegal abortion, but again the cost was prohibitive.  She sought legal help and ended up under the guidance of attorneys Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington.

In 1970, after McCorvey had given birth and given up the baby, Coffee and Weddington filed paper work challenging the Texas law and bestowed the name “Jane Roe” upon their client.  They targeted then-Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade.  Wade had entered the national spotlight nearly a decade earlier when he prosecuted Jack Ruby for killing Lee Harvey Oswald who had been accused of assassinating President John F. Kennedy.  (Wade would later come to light as a ruthless prosecutor who engaged in unscrupulous legal maneuvers to ensure criminal prosecutions, no matter the cost and despite evidence to the contrary.)

After McCorvey’s suit was filed, a Texas district court ruled the state’s abortion ban violated the constitutional right to privacy under the 14th Amendment.  Wade persisted, however, and vowed to prosecute any doctor who performed what he deemed unnecessary abortions in the state.  The case eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court and, in a 7-2 ruling on January 22, 1973, abortion was fully legalized in the United States.

That was pretty much the end of the issue until the 1980s, when right-wing religious leaders began stoking the fires of anti-abortion rhetoric.  It accompanied the presidency of Ronald Reagan who openly stated he wished for a return to an America before the 1960s.  That should say enough about his bigoted state of mind, but it aligned with a growing hostility towards progressive ideology and civil rights legislation.

Earlier this week the unexpected news arrived that the Supreme Court may overturn Roe vs. Wade by the end of its current term in June.  We wouldn’t know anything about this if it wasn’t for the leak of a draft opinion by Associate Justice Samuel Alito who declares the Roe decision “egregiously wrong” in terms of constitutional practicality.  Chief Justice John Roberts has confirmed the veracity of the statement, but has joined many others in condemning the leak.

For many of us the leak isn’t the main concern.  It’s what it says.  There is now a very real possibility that nearly a half century of protection for that part of women’s overall health care could end because a handful of conservative extremists on the High Court want to inject their personal views into it.

For their like-minded ilk in the American public, the overturning of Roe marks the end of a long-fought battle in their alleged “pro-life” agenda; a perverted early Mother’s Day gift.  It doesn’t matter that a majority of Americans don’t want to see a complete ban on abortion.  They’ve been working for this moment over the past four decades.

For liberals, though, this is a much more dire situation.  While the current case that brought Roe back into the forefront is limited to just abortion, progressives see other seminal SCOTUS decisions in the judicial crosshairs.  It really isn’t extraordinary to see such cases as Obergefell vs. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage, reversed.  Along with abortion, queer rights have been a target of far-right conservatives.  But, if the Court sees fit to outlaw abortion at the national level (and leave it up to individual states), it could also reasonably overturn Griswold vs. Connecticut, which ruled that states could not deny birth control to married couples.  Before that decision, married residents of Connecticut (and a few other states) couldn’t legally purchase birth control.

To some conservatives, abortion has become another form of birth control, which is not what contemporary feminists who jump-started the modern women’s movement desired.  The latter group had always declared that abortion should be a woman’s last choice.  But, with the overall concept of birth control in mind, is it possible a woman who has a tubal ligation could be criminally prosecuted?  For that matter, could men who have vasectomies be subject to criminal jurisprudence?  How about condoms or IUDs?  Could those be outlawed?

Why stop with Roe?  Aside from Obergefell and Griswold, could the Court target Loving vs. Virginia, the case that struck laws against interracial marriage?  How about Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education, which outlaws racial desegregation in schools?

Remember that, when Antonin Scalia died in 2016, Republicans in the Senate displayed their usual contempt and disdain for President Obama by refusing to hold hearings on his nominee to the Court, until after Donald Trump got into office.  They stated that, since Scalia’s death occurred during an election year, the incoming president should select his replacement.  Yet, upon the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 2020, they rammed through the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett – a character straight out of “The Handmaid’s Tale”.

That social and religious conservatives want to dictate what women can and cannot do with their own bodies conflicts with the long-held American vision of individual freedom.  Many of these people screamed at the thought mandatory mask-wearing or forced vaccinations at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic; crying they should have autonomy over their own bodies.  Really?  What an original concept.

Conservatives herald the beauty of life, but a life costs hard dollars in the very real world of child-rearing.  Since 2019, for example, the state of Texas has experienced a 1,100% rise in children placed into foster care.  Love and compassion alone won’t pay those bills, no matter how much prayer one puts forth.  Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie once emphasized that pro-life means the entire life cycle – not just up to the moment the fetus is born.

The reasons why an individual woman wants to end a pregnancy are myriad, but it is no one else’s business.  As painful a decision as it may be, I’d rather see a woman end a pregnancy she doesn’t want than give birth to a child she doesn’t want.  Children who come into the world unwanted are often unloved.  That’s an awful fate for someone.

Regardless, pregnancy and birth are individual choices.  No one – not the Supreme Court and not a politician – has the right to interfere with that.

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Book Less

“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [‘hard-core pornography’], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, opinion in Jacobellis v. Ohio, 1964

You know the old puzzle: if a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around, does it make a sound?  Using that logic, if a book is published, and no one finds its content offensive, is it obscene?

Obscenity seems to be subjective.  Right-wing extremists certainly feel that way, as they have (once again) assumed the role of moral overseer and decided they have the authority to determine what books are and are not appropriate for others to read.  To we writers and other artists, the term censorship is like holy water to a devil worshiper: it’s terrifying!  Whenever we learn that some people are challenging the presence of certain materials in a public venue, such as a library, we bristle.  But, instead of running and hiding, we’ve been known to stand and fight.

In the latest battle, the school board in McMinn County, Tennessee decided to ban the 1986 Art Spiegelman book “Maus: A Survivor’s Tale” from its library.  The illustrated tome is Spiegelman’s recounting of his parents’ experiences as prisoners of the Auschwitz Nazi death camp.  It won Spiegelman a Pulitzer Prize and, in 1992, the Museum of Modern Art mounted an exhibition displaying his original panels for the story“Maus” had been party of the school district’s lessons on the Nazi Holocaust.  The McMinn school board’s complaints about “Maus” are the usual gripes: language and nudity (animal nudity in this case).

It’s worth noting McMinn County, Tennessee is near the location of the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial, where the concept of evolution became intensely controversial.  In 1925 the state of Tennessee passed the Butler Act, a bill banning the teaching of evolution in its schools.  Evolution, declared legislators, contradicted the Christian Bible as the single standard of truth in public arenas, such as schools.  The move astonished – and frightened – many across the country.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) responded immediately by vowing to support any educator in the U.S. who dared to teach evolution.  A popular young high school teacher in – of all places, Tennessee – named John Scopes offered to be the defendant, if the state decided to make good on its promise.  They did.  On May 7, 1925, Tennessee authorities arrested Scopes and charged him with violating the Butler Act.

The ensuing legal battle made headlines across the country and the world.  The judge in the case showed his deference to the state by opening each session with a prayer and refusing to let Scopes’ defense call any scientific witnesses.  Ultimately Scopes was found guilty and fined $100.  The ACLU hoped the case would make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the Tennessee State Supreme Court reversed the decision on a technicality.  Still, the repercussions were widespread.  The Butler Act was never enforced in Tennessee again, and similar measures in other parts of the U.S. met with failure.  But progressives realized they could never relax in the face of extremist ideology.

So, here we are in the third decade of the 21st century, where the U.S. has come out of two brutal Middle East wars and is now facing an onslaught of urban violence.  We experienced 36 mass shootings in the month of January, resulting in 101 injuries and 42 deaths.  That’s just in the month of January 2022 alone!

But, as usual, social and religious conservatives are more upset with books.  In October of 2021, Texas State Representative Matt Krause asked the Texas Education Agency for information about 850 books in school libraries.  He wanted to know how many copies of these books were in each library.  It didn’t surprise observers that the majority of the books are by women, non-Whites and/or LGBT authors.  The imperial Krause is concerned that taxpayers are funding the presence of these books in school libraries.  Yet, my tax dollars are wasted if those books are removed because he and other like-minded folks find them unacceptable.

Some disputes have become hostile.  Police in Leander, Texas got involved in a controversy over one book, “Lawn Boy” in 2021.  Author Jonathan Evison says he received death threats because of it.  Texas – where any restrictions on guns is considered anathema – isn’t the only state under siege by moral zealots.  Similar attempts at censorship and assaults on free speech have played out in Missouri, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

“If I had a statement, it would be ‘Read the book or sit down,’” says Evison. “I feel like these people are frightened because they’re losing the culture wars.”

Yeah!  Sit down and read – more than the Bible or the TV guide.

I will concede parents have the right to be concerned by what their children view and read.  But I feel banning books from a school library is just one step away from banning books in any library or elsewhere.  It’s truly not an unrealistic stretch to envision such a scenario.  The world has witnessed such activities in totalitarian societies, and the results are often sanguineous.

Once again, though, what is obscene?

The 1920s was a decade of both progress and excess, particularly for the growing film industry.  Although silent and in black-and-white, movies had begun to show a variety of mature content – mainly heavy alcohol consumption and sexual behavior.  Concern over the material became so intense that, in 1934, Will H. Hays – then head of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) – introduced his personally developed “Hays Code”, a standard production guide for what is and what is not acceptable content for motion pictures.  The code remained until 1968, when the MPAA introduced its film rating system: G (General Audiences), PG (Parental Guidance recommended), R (Restricted) and X (mainly for sex, but also for violence).

By the 1960s, films were presenting increasingly controversial subject matter – and headaches for the MPAA.  The 1966 film “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” shocked audiences with its blatant use of foul language and served as one catalyst for the rating system.  The 1968 film “Vixen” became the first movie branded with an X rating.  The following year John Schlesinger released “Midnight Cowboy” with Jon Voight in the titular role.  It, too, was branded with an X rating.  Despite that, it went on to win the 1969 Academy Award for Best Picture – the first and (to date) the only X-rated film to win such an honor.  Viewing both “Vixen” and “Midnight Cowboy” now might make somebody wonder what the fuss was all about.

The film rating system took an odd turn in 1983 when a remake of the classic film “Scarface” came out.  The MPAA initially granted the movie an X rating because of its excessive violence.  Director Brian DePalma reluctantly trimmed some of the footage, and the film was rebranded with an R.  If it had gone out with the X label, “Scarface” would have been the first movie released as such because of violence.

Another X controversy arose six years later with “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover”.  The film’s gratuitous sexual content garnered an X rating from the MPAA.  As with DePalma and “Scarface”, director Peter Greenaway reluctantly agreed to edit out a small portion of the sexual matter – small as in some 5 minutes – and the film was upgraded to R.  The fiasco upset many in the entertainment community – not just in the U.S. but across the globe.  If the difference between an R and an X rating is a paltry 5 minutes, then how valid is a film rating system?

What is obscene?

In the 1950s, the Hays Code was applied to a growing new medium: television.  In motion pictures, the code, for example, dictated that people of the opposite sex could not be filmed in bed together, unless one of the duo (usually the man) had at least one foot on the floor.  In TV, however, even married couples couldn’t be shown in the same bed.  The rule went into effect after a 1947 episode of “Mary Kay and Johnny” showed the title characters hopping into the same bed.  But that taboo dissolved completely in 1969 with “The Brady Bunch”.  Bathrooms also were generally off-limits in television.  One exceptional first was a 1957 episode of “Leave It to Beaver”, when the boys tried to hide a pet alligator in the tank of a toilet.  An early episode of “All in the Family” produced another first: the sound of a toilet being flushed.

As mundane as all of these events are today, they each sparked a ruckus at the time.

Personally, I find excessive violence offensive.  I never laughed when I saw men and boys get struck in the groin in slap-stick comedy scenes in films and on television.  I grimace at bloody acts in similar venues, while others react as if nothing more than a sharp wind blew past them.  Conversely, many of these same individuals are horrified by the sight of blatant nudity, especially if the nudeness is that of a male.  It’s difficult to imagine now, but even as recently as the late 1960s words like pregnant and diarrhea were forbidden on television.

The word “bitch” is used frequently on TV today.  But, in 1983, a musical group called Laid Back released a song entitled “White Horse”, which features the line: ‘If you wanna be rich, you got to be a bitch.’  MTV played the video, but bleeped out the term “bitch”.  In 1994, Tom Petty released “You Don’t Know How It Feels”, which contains the line: ‘But let me get to the point, let’s roll another joint.’  Music video networks deemed the ‘roll another joint’ verbiage unacceptable and bleeped it out whenever they played the video.

In 1989, rap group 2 Live Crew released two versions of their song “Me So Horny”: what they dubbed the G-rated version and the R-rated version.  Radio stations played the G-rated version frequently, but the R-rated version generated the most strife.  At the start of 1990 a federal judge in the state of Florida considered the group and their music obscene and in violation of community standards – whatever that’s supposed to mean – and forbid local radio stations from playing any of their music.  Consequently, 2 Live Crew’s reputation and music sales skyrocketed.

I remember the controversy that erupted with the video to Madonna’s 1990 song “Justify My Love”.  Once again, music video networks assumed the role of moral protectorate and either refused to play the video or played it late at night, when children and other fragile souls – such as moral crusaders – were asleep.  Undeterred by the skirmish, Madonna packaged the video and sold it independently.

In 1965, The Rolling Stones made their debut appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show”, during which they performed a sanitized version of “Let’s Spend the Night Together”.  Producers convinced the group to sing ‘Let’s spend some time together’ instead.  Lead singer Mick Jagger leered at the camera – in the way only Mick Jagger can – when he spat out the words.

Two years later The Doors were presented with a similar option when they made their appearance on the show and performed their already popular and now seminal hit “Light My Fire”.  Sullivan’s son-in-law, Robert Precht, suggested they alter the line ‘Girl, we couldn’t get much higher’ to ‘Girl, we couldn’t get much better.  The group refused and performed the song as it was.  Their act of defiance resulted in their permanent ban from the show – a move I know upset them to no end.

I’ve noticed social conservatives haven’t raised concerns about inappropriate material in books like “The Anarchist Cookbook” and “The Turner Diaries”.  The latter served as a blueprint for Oklahoma City bomber (domestic terrorist) Timothy McVeigh.  If conservatives really want to ban books with sexual references and violence, they should start with the Christian Bible, which is rife with salacious and unsavory behavior.

Meanwhile, “Maus” has experienced a surge in sales as a result of the squabble surrounding it.  If there’s one way to ensure something’s popularity or success, it’s to try to ban it.  In other words, censorship always backfires.

Yet, censorship will always remain a threat to freedom of speech, expression and the press.  The war will never be won – by either side.  But those of us on the side of true freedom can win individual battles by standing up to self-righteous demagogues.

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Martin Luther King Day 2022

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Image: Paul Daniels

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Wait? We have.

I looked at Tom* with what he later described as a scowl.  “Are you serious?” I asked.

“Um…yeah,” was his only reply.  He then looked embarrassed – almost as if he realized he’d just said the wrong thing.  Or, in this case, just pissed me off.

It was the fall of 2002, and we’d known each other for a few years and been roommates since May.  Things weren’t turning out as well as I’d hoped.  Pooling resources is supposed to help people get through tough time.  So far, the only thing that had turned out well was the new puppy he got in August, after the death of his last dog.

I like Tom – for the most part.  You never really know someone unless you either spend the night with or move in with them.  Tom and I had never spent the night.  I do have standards!  But Tom was smart and highly-educated; something of a wild man with few bounds.

He was a little like me: a native Texan of mixed ethnicity (in his case, German and Indian) who graduated high school in 1982 and attended the University of North Texas (although I didn’t arrive there until 1984).  But he was more conservative, and our political discussions on race and gender often went sideways with his right-wing logic.

This evening’s conversation was a perfect example.  I can’t remember what set it off, but I had mentioned that the modern civil rights movement “had to occur”; that it had to take place.  He refuted that claim; calmly stating that it had been completely unnecessary; that eventually society would “come around” and realize it was only fair to give all people a chance; that folks just “needed to wait”.

Thus, my…scowl.

“Wait?”  People had already waited – more than 400 years, from the arrival of the first Europeans to the 1950s, when Martin Luther Kind launched his quiet revolution.

People had waited through the American Revolution, the U.S. Civil War, World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam.  People had waited through every major political and social event since the Salem Witch Trials for an equal place in American society.  People had waited through the name-calling, beatings, shootings, stabbings, lynchings and relocations.

People had waited.  Long enough.  And that’s why everything finally exploded in the 1960s.  I believe the catalyst was the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  Just a few years into the decade, the first U.S. president born in the 20th century was cut down by a delusional madman (or a cavalcade of them, depending on who you ask); thus squelching a promising future to an American that was moving irreversibly forward.  But the centennial of the Civil War – a conflict about one group of humans owning another group, not property – helped fuel the embers of dissatisfaction.  People had finally said, ‘I’ve had it.  This is it.  We’ve done everything possible to make ourselves valuable and worthy of a seat at that great American banquet table.’

And, in the midst of the mayhem, old White fools like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan stood around saying, ‘I don’t know why they’re so upset.  They live in a free country.’

Define free.

A high school English teacher once said all that happened in the 1960s was boiling in the 1950s.  The Korean War – the sadly “forgotten war” – was a blight in an otherwise great decade.  It was marked by the creation of the grandest economy at the time and included the seminal Brown v. Topeka Board of Education.

Tom didn’t know what to say to me after my rant.  It was more of a lecture.  I can get emotional with those sensitive issues, but I’d maintained my decorum – each of us standing there in boxer shorts chugging beers.  He was truly speechless – a rarity for him.  But alas… he had to concede I was right.  Or more, that he could see my point.

Wait…no longer.

*Name changed

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About the Last Decade…

“I saw the decade in,

When it seemed the world could change,

At the blink of an eye.”

Jesus Jones – “Right Here, Right Now

I have to wonder what is it about this last decade that makes it unique.  How do we define the 2010s?  It seems to be a modern quandary.  Since the 1920s, the United States – and perhaps, much of the world – has viewed itself in terms of decades.  Every ten-year period for the past century has been defined by certain cultural and political events and movements.

The 1920s were known as the “Roaring 20s” and the “Jazz Age”.  It was a decade of extraordinary prosperity, the maturity of the film industry, jazz bands, raccoon coats, flappers, bootleggers and marathon dancers.  The 1930s were dominated by the “Great Depression”; a calamitous effect of those “Roaring 20s”.  It also became renowned for the equally disastrous “Dust Bowl”, bank robbers, the rise of fascism in Europe and many precursors to World War II.

The 1930s started as the previous decade came to an end and spilled into the 1940s, which then became known as the “War Years”; its connection to the Second World War sealed in blood and stone.  Sorrow and patriotism marked that period, but hope also rose up from the sands of despair.  American dominance across the globe began to take shape in that decade.

The 1950s saw the greatest economic expansion in modern world history, as a new “Middle Class” took control of the American experience.  The Second World War metastasized into the Cold War, as Communism began rampaging across Europe.  The Korean War was a brutal stain on this time of prosperity, which also became known for a dual sense of conformity and fear.  The various civil rights movements that would dominate the latter half of the 20th century began fomenting in the 1950s.

The 1960s were a cataclysm of generational clashes, which started with the election of John F. Kennedy.  The decade commenced as a mirror of the previous decade.  But all of the chaos that defined the 60s had begun rumbling in the 50s, like a volcanic caldera.  People who had done everything possible to secure their right to freedom and happiness exploded with anger that they had achieved little in many respects.  Their hostility shocked the staid American populace, as the decade also saw the space race take shape; political assassinations; the Vietnam War; drug and sex revolutions; and finally, a man on the moon.

The 1970s began as an extension of the 60s, but it saw an explosion of artistry in music, television, cinema and literature.  It also experienced cultural and technological innovations.  On the down side, it was scarred by the first resignation of president in U.S. history; a humiliating end to the Vietnam conflict; energy crises; and finally, an even more humiliating hostage situation with Iran.

While the 60s were often called the “We Decade” and the 70s the “Me Decade”, the 1980s became the “Gimme Decade”; a time when greed became good, hair and women’s shoulder pads grew large and overpriced meals grew small.  It spawned the “MTV Generation” and saw the VCR become ubiquitous in American households.  It also experienced the rise of one of the greatest health crises in world history, as AIDS exploded.

The 1990s remains my personal favorite.  Although it began with the “Savings & Loan” crisis and the Persian Gulf War, we underwent economic growth that eclipsed the 1950s and an explosion of technology unmatched in modern history.  The 90s saw multiculturalism and the fruits of affirmative action; DNA science; the collapse of the Soviet Union; right-wing paranoia; and Y2K.

The first two decades of the 21st century, however, seem almost indistinguishable.  The horror of 9/11; a resurgence of patriotism; U.S.-led Middle East conflicts; and the “Great Recession” defined the first ten years.  But, if we had to classify the 2010s, how would we so it?  What would we say?

I feel it’s been almost a complete reversal of two centuries of civil rights progress.  The birth of the “Tea Party” in 2010 wasn’t so much a vitriolic dissatisfaction with the tax system in the U.S. (Taxed Enough Already), but rather, the election of the nation’s first biracial president.  That seemed to upend all that was considered normal in this country; an obliteration of long-held norms.  The “Tea Party” boasted a few Asian, Black and Hispanic members; all tokens working on behalf of the Old White Male, who went from just ‘angry’ to downright ‘enraged’.  So-called “birtherism” mixed with the complete and total disrespect Republican politicians had for Barack Obama.  In response, Republican-dominated state legislatures (including my beloved Texas) became determined to dismantle decades of voting rights by limiting early voting periods and enhancing voter identification methods; all in an attempt to undermine a mythical rash of voter fraud.  In reality, they were just appalled that a Negro (a half-blooded one, but a Negro nonetheless) could make it into the highest political office in the land.  Fortunately, they’ve been stalled by various judges at almost every step.  In retaliation for the Obama years, many voters became determined to get just about any old White man into the White House.  Thus, we ended up with the cantankerously disoriented Donald Trump.  I told myself repeatedly during the disastrous George W. Bush years that I’m not ashamed to be an American.  But Trump’s tenure has made that sentiment exceptionally difficult.

As with any serious economic downturn, the “Great Recession” made America turn inwards during the last decade; with non-Whites and immigrants suffering the usual brunt of antagonism and fear.  What should have been a time of extraordinary prosperity – coming off the 1990s – mutated into lackluster economic growth in the 2000s and ardent despair in the 2010s.  Literally millions of people lost their jobs, homes and savings, as the large corporations (particularly the monstrous financial institutions) that fueled the near-total collapse got bailed out.  And – with a few high-profile exceptions – no one went to jail.  Where was my tax relief?

The trickle-down economics bullshit that forms the basis of conservative financial ideology got a steroid-type boost with the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and intense deregulation of those dreaded banks.  That furthered the expansion of wealth inequality that makes the “Gilded Age” look juvenile.  The “Gilded Age” – to anyone wary enough – created an anarchist movement that took root in the slums of Europe and Latin America before seeping into the U.S.  It came close to a rebirth with “Occupy Wall Street”, but I still believe a full-fledged revolt is possible.

I guess how we define any period in our lives is how we define ourselves.  If we like where we are in life, then times are good.  It’s always purely subjective.  As introverted as I am and as pessimistic as I may seem to some, I still hope the 2020s experience an eruption of more progressive national ideologies; such as advances in science and medicine and greater funding for education and health care, instead of war and tax breaks for a select privileged few.  Where we go from here is often dependent more on our own aspirations than on fate and acts of God.  The sun hasn’t set on hope, if we look at hope as concept ahead and not behind.

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Worst Quote of the Week – December 6, 2019

“We have got to go back to what we did back in the ’60s and ’70s, back to a moral basis.  We had abortion laws in our state.  We did not have same-sex marriage.  We did not have transgender rights.  Sodomy was illegal.  These things were just not around when my classmates and I went to West Point and Vietnam.”

– U.S. Senate candidate and former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, during a recent campaign stop

To put things in greater perspective – and remind anyone who might have forgotten – Moore is the same cantankerous leech who was actually banned from a shopping mall in Alabama for approaching too many teenage girls.  Then again, the photo above with Moore holding his little pistol, might explain one reason for his angst.

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Civil Righting

the-constitution

Back in 2002, my then-roommate, Tom,* and I got into a discussion about racial and gender equality.  I stated that all of the various civil rights movements of the 19th and 20th centuries, starting with the abolitionist movement, were necessary to instigate change and make America live up to its declaration as a truly free and inclusive nation.  Tom merely shook his head no in a condescending fashion and said, “Nah,” later adding that eventually people would have “come around” and realize discrimination was wrong.

I looked at him like the fool he was and asked him if he sincerely believed that.  He said he did.  I then recounted the story of my father’s return from Korea in the mid-1950s.  He had been drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to the front lines in the midst of the Korean War.  Among the many friends he made were a large contingent of Black soldiers.  By then, the U.S. armed forces had been forcibly integrated, so a mix of ethnic groups comprised all the various military units.  My father didn’t serve his full two-year stint, as the war ended sooner than most anyone had expected.  He and several of his fellow soldiers arrived in Seattle via ship and then boarded a train to head to their various home cities.  My father was confused when his Black team mates started walking away from.  He called out to them, asking where they were going.  One told him they were headed towards the rear caboose – where Black people had to sit.  As he watched his friends, his brothers-in-arms, saunter down the platform, my father said to himself, “Oh yea, we’re back in America – land of the free.”

Tom just sort of looked at me, not knowing what to say.  He conceded it was wrong, even then, to force Blacks to sit at the back of a bus or a train.  But, he snapped out of his brief foray into actual reasoning and reiterated that eventually White people would have realized how unfair that was.  In other words, we didn’t bus strikes or protests of any kind.  People should have just waited around, hoping for the better.

No one should have to wait for justice and fairness.  Nobody should be straddled to the rocks of oppression and brutality – hoping, praying and begging for those in positions of power and influence to see the light.  Disenfranchised groups in the U.S. had waited for centuries to be treated with dignity and respect and to be given an equal chance to succeed.

I told someone else around the same time as my conversation with Tom that the 1960s exploded with anger and rage because patience had finally run out.  They’d done everything that had been asked of them: they served in the military; they worked hard; they cleaned homes and streets; they obeyed the laws (no matter how discriminatory they were); they tried as best to keep to themselves – everything.  And, they still weren’t given a fair chance.  Blacks still had to sit at the back of the bus; women still had to change their last names when they got married and still had to have children; Indians still had to live in squalor on reservations; gays and lesbians still had to suppress their true identities.

And so, by the 1960s, everything just sort of erupted at once.  If change didn’t come through peace and hard work, then it had to be forced.  America was compelled to fulfill its proclamation as a nation of freedom and opportunity.  It no longer had a choice in the matter.  The time had come to change – whether some folks liked it or not.

It was curious to hear Tom speak of racial and gender equality and inequality.  He was a mix of German and Cherokee; from a small, nondescript community in far northeast Texas.  We discussed the plight of Indigenous Americans more than once.  He felt that Indians could have fought back against European encroachers because they also had men.  I noted that Europeans had two primary advantages: guns and horses.  Moreover, they’d adopted both gunpowder and horse-riding skills from the Chinese.  Tom wasn’t moved.  And, I told him he now had the distinction of falling into two unique groups: those who aren’t educated about a subject and those who don’t want to be educated.  That’s actually a rarity, but one that persists even now; in this second decade of the 21st century with a biracial U.S. president and a shrinking White majority.

Attitudes really are hard to change.

*Name changed.

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